Community Efforts in Conservation by Kym Sutton
In my relatively short travels through Vietnam I noticed two main trends in conservation efforts depending on the generation. The mature and established generation participated in conservation when incentives were provided. With the younger generation I witnessed a rise in environmental education and passion for the environment.
In the last few decades much of Vietnam has gone through a rapid growth period. There have been massive government pushes to increase agriculture efforts. Our group drove through an area in Ca Mau Provence that had massive mangrove deforestation for the sake of the 1990’s agricultural push. Meanwhile the poverty rate in Vietnam has shrunk from around 80% to 20% in the past 30 years. In short there have been decades of focus on economic growth, sometimes at the cost of the environment. For established families this economic priority stands. Although the environment may be important, use of agriculture has drawn families out of poverty. This is why people who are established in their ways are more keen to act in conservation efforts when economic incentives are present.
On both the Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve and Ca Mau National Park compensation for forest protection was provided to farmers. It is important to note that reserve and national parks in Vietnam are a combination of areas with varying restrictions. These can range from completely restricted areas, where no one can enter, to areas of agriculture and aquaculture. In Can Gio reserve there are many people who make a living reaping the lands natural benefits; shrimp, crab and fish. Out of these groups 141 households are being paid to protect forests. These people are provided with government issued housing, a solar panel and a few other commodities in addition to a salary. In turn the family monitors the forest twice a day, checking and reporting signs of illegal deforestation, poaching or misuse.
For the farmer we visited the salary was no small stipend. Because it is illegal to cut mangroves in the reserve his shrimp farm was being overgrown. Although the salary from shrimp cultivation is decreasing he was not worried because the forest protection salary was increasing and was able to support his family. Ca Mau National Park had a similar form of salary. The farmers there are compensated 300,000 VND per year if they have at least 30% mangrove coverage on their land. Ca Mau Nationl Park also educates people on monitoring and protecting the forest but the farmers are either paid little or nothing in return due to low program funding. In consequence the program does not provide much beneficial forest protection.
The youth of Vietnam has flourished on their parent’s economic prosperity (for more information on youth culture you can reference Roy‘s blog post “Night Out on the Streets”). They have not witnessed as much poverty as their parents. Instead many youths are educated and seeking university education. Many “earth enthusiast” students that I have met here were majoring in aquaculture, natural resources or environmental studies. From chatting with them I learned their education was focused on the natural resources and how to conserve the resources for better agriculture/aquaculture as well as environmental protection. We have spent time with students from the Delta Youth Alliance (a group of Can Tho University students focusing on sustainable development) and they provided presentations on natural resource and climate change issues on Son Island. After a round of rapid “Facebook friending” (and real life befriending) I was able to see that these students were part of wildlife conservation movements and sustainable development of sanitation. This particular group of students has a strong drive for environmental education that is partially based on economic prosperity through enhanced farming methods and some on conservation.
During our adventures with the Delta Youth Alliance we visited the Bat Pagoda of Soc Trang. There we learned about the bat conservation efforts in the area. The conservation efforts have a strong push toward environmental education working both on working directly with youths and adding conservation to school curriculum. We met the winner of the group’s art contest, Meay Thanh Hoang. He had a designed a illustration to describe how to aide the local bat population. Conservation education in that area is being worked into primary and secondary education with a focus on conservation and not economical benefit.
As the population of Vietnam rises into a more comfortable lifestyle the ability to worry about environmental protection increases. I have been able to witness the shift from mature generations to the younger generations as it mirrors how environmental efforts shift from economically motivated to conservation motivated. Personally I find it encouraging that there is a surge toward increased conservation. The ecosystems I was raised in have been a huge part of my personality and I hope others can experience a similar tie to the natural world, or what may be left of it. It is important to remember however that what I have witnessed has been a small portion of conservation in Vietnam. I hope to continue learning more and gain a more comprehensive look at community efforts in conservation.